February 21, 2009
A 17-year old girl died from a reported drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out music festival earlier this month, after taking three ecstasy pills to avoid being caught by police at the gate. This was an unfortunate, but unsurprising occurrence.
The surprising element is how Big Day Out publicity have marginalised her behaviour by silencing their highly active online community.
A statement published on the BDO site on 2 February 2009 reads:
Perth drug overdose statement
Early yesterday afternoon a 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out. Tragically she died overnight.
While details have yet to be confirmed, it has been reported that the teenager consumed a number of pills outside the event to avoid being detected by police sniffer dogs that were in operation, in this instance with fatal consequences.
Big Day Out does not condone the use of drugs at the event. The same laws of the outside world apply inside the event. Over 3 million people have attended the Big Day Out in its 17 year history and this is the first time an incident of this nature has occurred.
Sniffer dogs are commonly used outside large events like the Big Day Out and are part of the police’s harm minimisation responsibility.
The investigation is being followed up by the Police.
To respect the privacy of the family, no further comments will be made.
In contrary to that final statement, there’s also a dedication page on the BDO site, containing a message from the girl’s mother.
While the Big Day Out brand will remain untarnished by this event – it’s arguably stronger than ever – this sad occurrence is now inextricably linked to the event’s brand in the same manner as 16-year old Jessica Michalik‘s death during the 2001 tour.
Where Michalik’s death was the result of inadequate crowd control measures – a mistake rectified from the 2002 tour onwards – Thoms’ drug-related death requires a conversation between Big Day Out publicity and the hundreds of thousands who attend the tour across Australia and New Zealand each year.
Critically, the online community who follow the event have been silenced: the highly active Big Day Out forum was disabled immediately after the news of Thoms’ death broke, and it remains closed almost a month later.
Silence isn’t the best response here.
In this case, Big Day Out publicity invite criticism by refusing to allow a dialogue to occur.
The only publicised offshoot of Thoms’ death is a Western Australian police commissioner agreeing that “amnesty bins” should be installed outside music festivals, to allow punters to deposit their drugs without fear of prosecution. And to minimise the likelihood of festival attendees overdosing in a panic before entering the venue, as in Thoms’ case.
There’s nothing new about youth drug culture. But when an unfortunate event such as an overdose occurs, people start asking questions of the police, of the festival organisers, of each other.
In a time of crisis or confusion, people want to connect with each other. And while an isolated festival overdose isn’t the strongest catalyst for either impulse, it’s still an occasion better met with community encouragement than marginalisation; with noise instead of silence.
I understand that moderating public opinion becomes exponentially more difficult as a greater volume of people converge in one location. The need to consistently and accurately monitor the fine line between opinion and libel is likely at the forefront of the organisers’ swift decision to close the public forum.
Censorship aside, an alternative forum named Small Night In has sprung up following the closure. But many questions remain unanswered:
- Why silence an established, highly active online community following a drug-related death?
- Why not encourage a dialogue between festival attendees and festival organisers?
- Why not partner with an established organisation such as the Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) and encourage participation – both online and in BDO-sponsored community forums held in capital cities – to gauge youth opinion on drug use, so as to minimise the chances of a repeat e?
- Most importantly: why not work harder to turn a negative event into a positive by reinforcing a sense of community?
Funnily, I was only provoked into thinking about the BDO organisers’ handling of the Thoms death after I received an email sent to the BDO user database advertising Lily Allen’s June Australian tour.
Promote a tour; marginalise the voices of Australian youths itching to converge and converse.
Poor form, Big Day Out.
February 15, 2009
…with their new album Merriweather Post Pavilion, they have been promoted to a bigger league, where they’re a talking point for a whole new set of people who, until recently, had no interest in their existence.
Just like when you pass by a mirror and can’t resist taking a glance, people are looking for the flattering angle, for a stance on the band and their music that makes the opinionator look good.
I like this concept of a mirror group. Reynolds cites MIA, Vampire Weekend and Kid A-era Radiohead as recent examples, though I’d argue that the release of OK Computer heralded Radiohead’s tipping point.
I’ll add Kings Of Leon to that list. Two mildly successful albums, and then a surge in popularity upon the release of Because Of The Times and its lead single On Call in 2007. But that album was nothing compared to the runaway success of 2008’s Only By The Night and Sex On Fire.
Reynolds is right about Animal Collective. They’ve flittered away under my radar for a couple of years, and I chose to ignore them, if only because I wasn’t pushed hard enough in their direction.
But that’s changed with the new album. Aziz Ansari linked to their excellent video for My Girls, which burns bright with kaleiodscopic joy. (The “woo!”s in the background of the chorus totally make the song, btw)
And that’s all it takes. A solid recommendation, and I’ll pay attention to a band for a song or an album or a lifetime. I downloaded the album and I like it. I’ll recommend it to my friends and see them when they tour.
At a deeper level, beneath the particulars of aesthetics and resonance, what’s really at issue is, I think, the status and function in our culture of “middlebrow”. With Merriweather, almost everyone is either castigating or applauding Animal Collective for their tentative steps into the middling regions of pop culture: that Kid A zone where mild experimentalism meets not-too-obvious melodicism.
The space between the underground and the mainstream is a tricky intersection for musicians to navigate. Stray too far from your roots, and you’ll be abandoned by your core fanbase – your tribe.
Primal Scream are a fine example of a band whose sound has varied wildly across their career, yet their musical diversity allows them to successfully embody many genres – or wear many masks, if you’d like – when performing live.
Many musical thoughts for a Sunday evening. An open question – which sounds are exciting you at the moment?
February 9, 2009
I’ve stopped logging on to MySpace. The only reason I’d continued to check it was to read bulletins posted by bands I enjoy.
But then the noise became deafening.
Too much effort for too little reward.
Processor-intensive Flash ads swarmed my homepage.
And instead of including bulletin pagination, to allow me to view 25 or 50 or 100 bulletins on a page, they kept with the original model of dividing bulletins into groups of 10. Each page yielded a new set of flashing ads. Awesome.
But that’s in the past. Bye, MySpace.
So if you’re a band I listen to or a band who thinks that I might like to listen to you, there’s a question you should be asking yourself. How are you going to connect with me, now?
How are you going to coerce me to join your tribe?
Or, more importantly: where is your tribe going to converge?
I don’t friend bands on Facebook, because Facebook is for human friendships.
I rarely visit band websites, as I’ve discussed.
If I don’t visit your Facebook profile or your website, it’s going to be tough to convince me to join your mailing list. And mailing lists aren’t the ideal method for artists to broadcast from, as it’s one-to-one. Not one-to-many like the sense of community you felt when browsing a band’s MySpace profile.
MySpace succeeded for several years because it provided the tools for musicians to share their craft and assemble a community in a central location.
But if the community is dispersing, where are they going to meet next?
Where is the next MySpace for musicians?
Finding a suitable answer for this question is as important for me, the music fan and critic, as it is for the artists who want me to hear their music.
I want a central hub to connect with hundreds of artists I admire and enjoy. I want to listen, to follow, to gain an insight into their recording process and international tours and personalities.
MySpace is no longer the answer. It’s old tech.
I don’t care about exclusive album streams. I don’t care about digital music store partnerships.
I just want to know when my favourite artists have recorded new music. When they’re touring. What other people think of their music.
Twitter is not the answer. Too shallow. When it comes to musicians, it’s a case of too little data spread too thin. I’ll happily read essays on subjects that I’m interested in.
If you’re a musician, I don’t particularly want to know what you’re doing all day, every day. Just the important stuff. Specific, anticipated, relevant. New music, tours, reviews, videos.
Again, these kinds of periodic updates could be delivered via mailing list. But I’m not going to go around visiting band websites and joining lists.
Like I said, this is as important a question for me, the music fan, as it is for the artists and labels.
Build something remarkable. Something worth sharing. Somewhere worth returning to. And I’ll be there.
January 28, 2009
Laughing Clowns / Bob Farrell
Gallery of Modern Art, South Bank Fri Jan 23
Ed Kuepper pensively smokes a cigarette as a healthy crowd streams through the Gallery’s entrance. His eyes are focussed across the river, toward the city lights. Perhaps he’s thinking of the handful of shows that his Laughing Clowns have played since their reformation a fortnight ago at the Mount Buller leg of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival; their first full-band performance since 1984. En route to the venue, I’m nervous. Rarely do I approach a show with such trepidation: the Buller set was the apex of a weekend crammed with remarkable performances. Can Kuepper and his fellow musicians match my expectations? This question bounces around my head as we politely witness original Clowns member Bob Farrell toil through a languid half-hour split between piano, saxophone and seemingly stream-of-consciousness sing-song rants.
My apprehension is soon proven baseless. Kuepper and his four bandmates address the hundreds-strong audience with their unique saxophone-led rock style, which is augmented by keys and double bass. Their handful of studio albums are equally represented: The Flypaper, Nothing That Harms and Collapse Board are highlights, the latter of which Kuepper ironically cites as the “most depressing song in rock and roll”, while surrounded by an art exhibit named Optimism.
Immense-sounding signature tune Eternally Yours is a flawless set closer, but trust a jubilant hometown crowd to demand the band’s first-ever encore. Louise Elliott’s scorching saxophone melodies – equal parts soothing and scornful – are integral to the band’s timelessly electrifying sound: she trades sax for flute during New Bully In The Town, before Kuepper opts to close with Saints-era track Winter’s Way. Venue curfew is enforced; bassist Biff Miller is loathe to part with his instrument, but the five members reluctantly leave an equally reluctant crowd. Saxophone melodies are whistled long and loud as we disperse, smiling into the night. Classy, Clowns.
January 27, 2009
Taking a page out of rock n’ roll’s history book of music icons, DBH will be partnering with bands that span the spectrum from the great classics of all time to the hottest emerging musical artists today. Packed with tons of cool prizes and a chance for worldwide recognition, the DBH Music Series brings a whole new level to the world of t-shirt design contests.
First prize: $1500 cash, $200 DBH store credit, and 2 backstage passes to a Fleetwood Mac concert with an opportunity to meet the band.
Nevermind that Fleetwood Mac aren’t cool anymore – this is a great example of an industry dinosaur adapting to the community-based nature of the web. Hot Chip ran a similar contest in conjunction with Threadless, though the winning shirt was only available online.
No tandem announcement on the band’s website, which is a missed opportunity. While DBH would have a sizeable database, how many of those are fans of the ‘Mac? Though, maybe they’re not necessarily targeting fans of the band: the chance for your design to appear behind the merch desk of a hugely popular band’s world tour is a unique proposition.
But it shouldn’t be.
Artists across the world should buy into the opportunity to foster community participation in their merchandising decisions. Advertise, outsource talent, and encourage your fanbase to vote and comment on the result.
Unhappy with the designs presented by local artists? Advertise online describing the look you’re after, and see what comes back. A fan on the other side of the world might have kick-ass shirt ideas and the talent to deliver. So why bother with the same tired plain-colour-with-chest-logo formula that many bands still follow?
Interesting, non-standard shirt designs attract attention. I wear Threadless and, more recently, DBH designs because they’re far more remarkable than the marginally modified crap that popular Australian labels churn out each season. They stand out, so you get noticed. Which is great, if that’s your goal.
Furthermore, I know that the design I’m wearing was made by a person who was rewarded for their efforts. That’s how Threadless and DBH work: you submit a design, and if it gets printed, you get paid in cash and store credit. And your name (or pseudonym) is attributed to your work, which appears online and on the neck of the shirt.
All of these factors add to the stickiness of user-generated clothing designs. They’re worth sharing, which adds to your brand equity. People talk about your brand. The successful designers are happy because they’re rewarded for their talents. They show their friends and family. They promote their work on their personal websites.
All of these factors create a community – a tribe – around your brand. A group who’re happy to champion your cause and improve the quality of the result. If that’s not your goal as a company in 2009, it should be: maximise returns by engaging with and listening to your userbase.
I’m glad that Design By Humans are working with popular musicians to form tribes around their merchandising, which is an area of fiscal pertinence in an era of diminishing returns on recorded work. For all but the biggest bands, it’s no longer a matter of selling albums: instead, the goal is to maximise the amount of ears that hear your work in order to encourage tour attendance.
January 21, 2009
According to data released by IFPI Communications in the UK this week, it is estimated that more than 40 billion illegal downloads of songs occurred during 2008.
While digital downloads accounted for revenues of around $3.7 billion last year, it is estimated than more than 95% of downloads are still via illegal means.
I hear a new artist, or existing artist’s new release on the radio or on MySpace or on YouTube or in street press or through a friend recommendation.
I immediately check whether I can acquire the mp3s, through a variety of channels that I won’t divulge here. If I can – awesome. Download immediately, save to disk; in most cases, transfer to iPod. Then:
Listen to music. Do I like?
- Tell friends to listen to music
- Attend show if they tour – most often in a reviewing capacity
- Bring friends to show
- Buy album (in rare cases)
- Buy merch (in even rarer cases)
- Tell friends not to listen to music
- Do not listen to music
This is how I’ve operated for over a year. I’ve written about this before.
Impress me, or get the hell out of my ears. There’s simply too much good music out there to waste even a couple of minutes listening to a poor, or even an average song.
It’s 2009. The above data should not be surprising. I doubt that many musicians dare to dream of making a decent full-time living from their craft. Competition grows stronger each day, and attention gets diverted further.
I download music regularly. This is my musical microeconomy. What’s yours?
January 19, 2009
That saxophone melody. I realise on the bus ride down the mountain that I could probably listen to it forever.
The band had the restraint not to play the song as on record, which frustrated me for several minutes. Here it is, in many ways a perfect song, and they have the nerve to modify it?
Which is, of course, an entirely irrational line of thinking, and it was soon flung from my mind.
And so five humans stood before me, carefully dabbing with brushes at the canvas of a masterful creation. That saxophone melody fills me with the most extraordinary feeling of elation, optimism, joy, compassion. Some truly primal emotions were awakened within me, and as I don’t fully understand them, I feel inadequate to even mention them.
“See you again in 2034,” smirked the guitarist, as they left the stage.
Damn him. Damn him and his band and their talent and whatever remained between them for 25 years. This was a musical experience on par with few others in my lifetime. I am thankful that I will get to experience a similar performance at least once more.
The above was written following the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival that took place at the Mount Buller Ski Resort, January 9-10 2009. The band in question is Ed Kuepper‘s Laughing Clowns, and the song is Eternally Yours.
My short review of the weekend:
Friday is for wide-eyed exploration of the festival’s unique locale: hitching a chairlift ride just metres away from the main stage’s massive sound system is exhilarating. We bear witness to Bill Callahan as Smog, accomplished blues artist James ‘Blood’ Ulmer at the Ampitheatre and five Kim Gordons masquerading as Beaches – a compliment, make no mistake. Not-so-secret mystery act Grinderman squint into the afternoon sunlight and pound out a powerful set of masculine depravity, which provides stark contrast to the restrained brilliance of improvisational maestros The Necks.
Dirty Three greet the night with an edited performance of Ocean Songs, while The Saints re-enact 2007’s Pig City performance with striking accuracy and largely without passion. Guitarist Ed Kuepper is much more comfortable fronting the reformed Laughing Clowns on Saturday, who turn in an enrapturing performance of their jazz-affected post-punk and conclude with the towering saxophone melody and festival highlight of Eternally Yours.
The aging faces of Silver Apples and Harmonia are visually anachronistic and aurally futuristic, yet this doesn’t stop the buoyant crowd from engaging with the pioneering electronic sounds of either act. This open-mindedness rates among the most attractive trait displayed by festival-goers; though, perhaps this willingness to trial uncharted sounds is more indicative of our trust in the curators’ judgement, which remains impeccable across two days.
The earth-shattering electronic distortion of British pair Fuck Buttons is sonically distant from the cute thrash-pop of Japanese girl duo Afrirampo, yet both acts win legions of new fans following outstanding performances. Greek lyre-playing wonder Psarandonis inspires mass-gypsy dancing as light fades on Saturday evening, before Spiritualized conquer the main stage with their powerful, gospel-inspired noise rock. Fourteen arms and fourteen legs comprise festival curators Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who see off a memorable weekend in their affecting, incomparably badass style.
While failing to reach venue capacity, All Tomorrow’s Parties organisers succeed in ensuring that the inaugural ATP Australian festival is smoothly-run and highly memorable. It’s heartening that this boutique event can cater for the more discerning music fan; the overwhelmingly positive consensus among attendees leads one to believe that the market for future events is only going to increase.
I reviewed the Brisbane Riverstage ATP show, too.
The Gold Coast Big Day Out yesterday was such a departure, or more accurately, a return to the reality of Australian music festivals. Unpleasant isn’t the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
Where ATP was about open spaces, hand-picked artists, musical exploration and community, BDO represents crowded spaces, populist musical decisions, overt nationalist pride and exceeding one’s limits, ostensibly in the name of a good time. Like some kind of devolutionary race to the bottom.
I’m not complaining. I chose to attend, and I enjoyed myself. It’s just interesting to compare the objectives for but two of the dozens of festivals that dot the Australian summer calendar.
January 4, 2009
The Hottest 100 is an annual poll conducted by Australian radio station Triple J. It’s the largest music poll in the world, and while I’m not disillusioned enough to believe that my input will affect the results (how’s it feel to be on top, Kings Of Leon, Presets and MGMT?), there’s still a tiny sense of self-satisfaction to be gained by voting for ten songs that enlightened my year.
Video links included where possible, else MySpace.
Note that these are tracks were released in 2008 and appeared in the voting list. And unlike previous years, Triple J didn’t output a list of my votes in the auto-generated confirmation email, so I had to re-compile the above list from memory.
More accurately, the songs I listened to most in 2008 are as follows:
December 2, 2008
Frustrated, but still intent on purchasing directly from the label, I sent this email to the contact address nominated in the page header:
Here’s the deal: I want to buy the Zillions album online and I’d rather purchase from you guys than JB Hi Fi.
The album is not listed for sale in the store (http://www.speaknspellmusic.com/store/).
How quickly can you make this happen? I can pay for the album via credit card, PayPal or direct deposit and would like to have it in my possession this week.
I’m in Brisbane.
It’s been two full business days since I sent that email on November 30. I’m yet to receive a response.
So, why is this a big deal?
- I went out of my way to buy directly from the label, not a franchised record store
- The label hasn’t updated their web store with an album that’s been available for almost a month
- The label is unresponsive to a direct sales enquiry
- The label is not satisfying a potential customer
- The potential customer is now sharing his negative sales experience with the world
There’s a disconnect within Speak N Spell Music’s organisational structure. Nobody is responding to their primary online sales point of contact.
A shame, because I’d really like to hear that album.